oil and gas

Joshua Doubek, Wikimedia Commons

The current oil and gas boom, fueled by a technique called hydraulic fracturing, has opened massive shale gas and oil formations in states like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

But unlike past booms, this time drilling is bumping right up against communities. With oil and gas development now at their doorsteps, people are worried about the health impacts.

But the industry has taken off so quickly that scientific research about those impacts - which is timely, costly, and complex - is playing catch up.

Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is getting renewed attention from oil and gas companies. The region has been producing oil for decades, but now companies are looking to tap some of the Basin’s old reserves using new techniques, like horizontal drilling and fracking.

As analyst Raoul LeBlanc, with IHS Energy, explained in a video blog last week, his firm thinks the Basin could have as much potential as some of the much better-known plays in North Dakota and Texas.

American Oil and Gas History Association

There’s an invisible network connecting every corner of the United States. Without it, cars wouldn’t start and lights wouldn’t turn on. At 2.6 million miles, if it were stretched out, it would reach around the Earth more than a hundred times. Chances are, you’ve never noticed it. The nation’s sprawling pipeline network is buried underground, out of sight and out of mind.

The Western Energy Alliance released a report this week on sage grouse protection measures used by the oil and gas industry. Though the report claims that the industry is doing enough to protect grouse, a local conservationist disagrees.

Erik Molvar is a biologist and campaign director with WildEarth Guardians. He says that the Bureau of Land Management’s own research disputes the WEA findings.

AFL-CIO

The AFL-CIO, a coalition group of labor unions, has released a report blasting industry for failing to make workplaces safer, especially in oil and gas.  Wyoming has ranked as one of the five most deadly states to work in for the last ten years.  In 2012, only North Dakota had more workplace fatalities.  Kim Floyd, Executive Secretary for the Wyoming chapter of the AFL-CIO says it has a lot to do with the focus of both states’ economies.

The newly discovered abundance of domestic oil and gas is creating a shortage of something else: the petroleum engineers who regulate drilling activities. Government petroleum engineers approve companies’ drilling plans and inspect wells after they’re completed to make sure they’re not at risk of contaminating water or blowing out, but as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, there just aren’t enough petroleum engineers to go around.  

When there’s an energy boom, it usually brings an influx of workers into the area. And that leads to more demand for housing. That’s great for landlords who are looking to rent out their properties. But as some communities in Wyoming are finding, oil and gas drilling can actually be a problem for people who are looking to sell. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

WILLOW BELDEN: Rhonda Holdbrook owns a real estate firm in Douglas, and she’s exceptionally busy these days. Oil production in Converse County is booming, and energy workers have flocked to town.

Last week, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of fracking chemicals said it would fully disclose the ingredients of its products. But Wyoming’s top oil and gas regulator says until he sees more information from Baker Hughes about the format of its disclosure, it’s hard to say whether it goes far enough to comply with Wyoming’s disclosure laws.

WILLOW BELDEN: In 2012, the tribes who share the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho Tribes, came to a settlement with the federal government for a mineral royalties mismanagement case dating back to the 1970’s. The federal government has finally released the money from the settlement, and tribal members on Wind River are anxiously awaiting their checks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov joins us to talk about the settlement and what it means to the Wind River Community.

To start, could you tell us what this settlement is all about.

Long-awaited money from a settlement on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is finally on its way.

The federal government is paying the tribes $157 million for underpayment of royalties on oil and gas development and improper management of royalties that were paid. Northern Arapaho spokesman Mark Howell says some people don’t have bank accounts and there were concerns they would not be able to cash their checks.

Willow Belden

Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says he's making it a priority to review Wyoming's setback rules.

Setback rules govern how close oil and gas development can be to things like houses and streams. The current limit is 350 feet.

At an Oil and Gas Commission meeting Tuesday night in Casper, several residents said they'd like to see the distance raised to a mile, because of concerns about potential health impacts of energy production. Watson says they're asking a lot.

The federal Office of Natural Resources Revenue, or ONRR, has fined a Wyoming oil and gas producer $204,362 for not submitting timely production reports for its federal leases. Matrix Production Company was issued two notices of noncompliance before ONRR levied the penalties. ONRR spokesman, Patrick Etchart, says the production reports are used to keep companies in check.   

The U.S. Forest Service is analyzing how additional oil and gas development would affect a 44,000-acre parcel of land in the Wyoming Range. The study will help the agency decide whether to allow energy leasing in the area.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming says that because it’s multiple use land, the Forest Service should continue to allow oil and gas development. But Steve Kilpatrick with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation says new development in the Wyoming Range would harm important wildlife habitat.

Wyoming crude oil production is on the upswing.

The state produced more crude oil last year than it has in any year since 1999.  That's in line with a nationwide trend; last year the country produced more crude oil than it has in any year since 1989.

State geologist Tom Drean says the increase can be attributed to more drilling activity in unconventional plays like shale and tight sands, made possible because of technologies like fracking, and horizontal and extended reach drilling.

Repealing tax credits for fossil fuel producers and strengthening the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas program are the among the energy proposals in President Obama’s 2015 budget.

University of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming is getting a major donation for its new energy and engineering research complex.  Halliburton is giving $2 million to be applied towards a 'high bay' research facility.  

The facility's size will allow for large scale experiments.  Halliburton is also giving UW an additional $1 million for research into unconventional oil and gas reservoirs.  The gift will be matched by the state.  Governor Matt Mead says it was an exciting discussion with Halliburton.

The Wyoming House of Representatives has given final approval to a bill that would raise the bond from $2,000 to $10,000 for oil and gas drillers seeking access to privately owned land. 

The bond is used to repair damage to surface land when a use agreement can't be reached between the landowner and the energy company.  Opponents says that the increase is too high.  

Casper Republican Tom Walters said increasing the bond wages war on industry.

The Wyoming House of Representatives began debating a bill that would increase the bonding required from oil and gas developers who need to drill on private surface land. 

The bond is used in lieu of a negotiated surface use agreement between landowners and energy companies. The agreement established payment for surface damage. Currently the bond is two thousand dollars and the bill would raise it to ten thousand dollars. 

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is planning to review several controversial issues, including flaring, well-setbacks and bonding, starting in March.

Those topics have come up a lot in recent years, with the boom in drilling. The Powder River Basin Resource Council asked the Commission to address them last year, and so have several residents in recent opinion pieces in the Casper Star-Tribune.

According to a new report, Wyoming voters are more likely to vote for candidates who support using public lands for more than just oil and gas development.

With no debate the Wyoming Senate gave final approval to a bill that would raise bonding for oil and gas drillers seeking access to surface land they don't own. 

The current bond is $2,000. The bill is attempting to raise that to $10,000, partly in an effort to encourage operators to negotiate surface use agreements with landowners.

The Wyoming Senate began debate on a bill that would increase bonding requirements for oil and gas operators on split estate properties.

The bill would increase the bond for operators drilling on land where they don't own the surface rights from two-thousand dollars to ten thousand.  Supporters say that operators are causing surface damage in excess of ten thousand dollars. 

Senators voted down an amendment to reduce limit the bond to six thousand dollars.  Kaycee Senator John Schiffer says the higher bond helps protect landowner rights.

The Senate Minerals Committee approved a bill Monday that would increase the amount of money oil and gas operators have to put up before accessing split estate properties.

A split estate is when a private landowner owns the surface land and not the mineral rights. The bill raises the minimum bonding amount from $2,000 to $10,000. The bond covers any damages to the property from development, when a surface use agreement can’t be negotiated.

Ozone forecasting in Sublette County will begin again in January. Ozone is a hazardous gas that’s formed under certain conditions by the combination of volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides. In recent years Sublette County has seen spikes in ozone during wintertime, particularly on days with no wind, lots of sunlight and snow on the ground.

The resource curse is real -- and discernible even at the county level -- according to a new study from the non-profit research group Headwater Economics.

Researchers looked at more than 200 counties across six western states, and found that those with above-average oil and gas development over a long period of time had lower per capita incomes, less educational attainment and higher crime rates.

The Department of Interior’s oil and gas royalty program has been examined repeatedly in the past for weaknesses and high risk of mismanagement and a new Government Accountability Office study suggests more can be done to guarantee a fair return on extracted natural resources. The study says one of the biggest issues is that the DOI does not have set procedures for reviewing the royalty program.

The legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee is mostly onboard with a new plan to plug abandoned oil and gas wells in the state. The committee discussed the Governor’s plan at a meeting on Thursday. Senator Chris Rothfuss says while the committee had questions about some of the details, like the cost and timeline, there was a general agreement that the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should move forward with the plugging.

Bob Jenkins / Wikipedia

Legislators had a lot of questions about a proposed water-testing rule for oil and gas wells during a meeting of the Minerals Committee last week.

Governor Matt Mead proposed the rule, which would require water testing before and after drilling. Industry estimates it would cost $9,000 to $18,000 per well. The governor’s natural resources policy advisor, Jerimiah Rieman, told legislators it’s worth the cost.

“From my perspective, it’s pretty cheap insurance for the companies,” Rieman said. “It’s pretty cheap for the state to have a rider on that policy.”

Irina Zhorov

A legislative committee would like to see faster progress on a program to plug abandoned oil and gas wells. That was the message for Oil and Gas Supervisor Grant Black at a meeting of the legislature’s Minerals Committee today.

Committee members criticized Black for not providing a concrete plan for plugging or repurposing the wells. There are currently 1,200 orphaned wells in the state, and that number is expected to double in the next year.

Oil and gas operators need more insurance, or bonding. That’s what the leaders of several state agencies told the legislature’s Minerals Committee at a meeting today. They said there’s a gap in how much money is available and how much is needed to deal with abandoned oil and gas wells. The question is: where will that money come from?

Oil and Gas Commission Supervisor, Grant Black, says the bonding structure can be changed to avoid similar problems in the future.  

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